Seven years ago, the Miller family of Tyler lost their white maltese, Reese, after it escaped while the family was on a weekend visit to Dallas. Reese was taken to an animal shelter in Mesquite, where he was adopted by another family—the Davis family, who moved with the dog to Tacoma, Washington.

Last week, the dog whom the Davis family had named Harley got out of that family’s yard when their two-year-old daughter unlatched the door. Rescuers found that the dog had a microchip identifying the owners—and that chip pointed to the Millers, in Tyler, who claim that they “never stopped searching for” Reese/Harley. The dog was flown to Houston on Monday, and Dinah Miller met him at the airport

‘We cannot believe it, we just can’t believe it,’ Miller told KHOU  as she anxiously awaited her old pal’s arrival on a United flight to Houston alongside her daughter Tisha Reed.

‘Hopefully they’ll just pick up where they left off,’ Reed said as Reese’s plane was en route.

Once he arrived, Reed’s hopes came true.

Footage shows a reunion that could not have been warmer as Reese scrambled frantically from his crate to be with Miller.

‘Just to hold him again and love him for the rest of his life,’ said Reed. ‘I know it means a lot to my mom.’ 

Stories of people who are reunited with long-lost pets are heartwarming, usually, but this one has a darker undercurrent: Namely, what about the family in Tacoma who had lived with Harley for six years after rescuing him from a shelter

“Harley is my daughter’s best friend. That’s her little buddy. They do everything together,” Kelli Davis told KHOU.  She says the dog got out when her two-year-old accidentally unlatched the door.

 These situations are fairly impossible to resolve fairly, but six years is a very long time for a dog to be with a family. It’s not clear from reports how old Harley/Reese is, but it’s probably safe to say that the dog has spent much of its life with the Davis family. It’s also unclear how the microchip failed to indentify the Millers as Reese’s owner when he was in the shelter in Mesquite, but regardless, it speaks to the impossibility of these situations: Two families can love a dog, but only one can keep it.

The story of Harley/Reese recalls the viral story of Robert Gabbert, a 23-year-old soldier in Colorado whose 3-year-old shiba inu, Baxter, was sold by his girlfriend while he was deployed. The family who bought the dog said they’d grown attached in the months that they’d had him—but a social media campaign pressured them to surrender Baxter to Gabbert’s parents, who will keep it while he’s deployed. 

You can point fingers, if you want. One can blame the Miller family for taking a dog away from a two-year-old who’d lived with it her entire life, or from a family who’d cared for it for six years; one can blame the Davis family for not investigating if perhaps the dog they’d adopted had a microchip in the previous six years; one can blame the family who bought Baxter for paying for a dog on Craigslist when so many animals need homes, and one can blame Gabbert for reclaiming a dog he’s unable to care for while he’s deployed. But anyone with an animal they love can tell you that these situations have no real solution.

This was made especially clear in the 2009 documentary Mine!, about the rehoming of pets that belonged to people who were forced to leave them behind after Hurricane Katrina. Many of those stories end with people engaged in a dog timeshare situation, traveling across the country to see the dogs they loved. Those are great lengths to go to, but as this situation demonstrates, there really is no other solution.

(photo of Dinah Miller with Reese, Marlo, and Cookie // AP Photo/Tyler Morning Telegraph, Sarah A. Miller)